Tuesday, 8 December 2009

North Wales post offices boosted by Assembly funding

North Wales AM Janet Ryder has praised news that 10 post offices across North Wales are among those awarded a total of £1.5m from the Post Office Diversification Fund.

She said the Welsh Assembly-funded scheme would lead to the equivalent of 57 full-time jobs at 75 post offices throughout Wales - a clear example of how the Welsh Assembly Government was committed to communities.

The Plaid Cymru AM said: 
"The UK London government has neglected the Post Office network and closed far too many of our community post offices in Wales. What a refreshing difference in attitude to see the Welsh Government taking positive action to safeguard and support post offices because we recognise their importance in our communities."

This is the second round of funding which is designed to help sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses diversify and improve their Post Offices. A total of £1.1million for sixty three post offices was announced in July.

The £4.5million fund, which will run for three years and is open to every sub-post office in Wales, aims to help with business and marketing advice, advertising, training and some set-up costs for new services. Funding can also be applied for improvements such as creating better access to buildings, upgrading computer equipment, improving security or providing better signs for the outside of premises.

Twelve Post Offices have been awarded grants of up to £5,000 each for small capital projects such as new air conditioning or security systems and sixty three have been awarded up to £20,000 each for larger capital projects such as renovation, improving access or installing facilities for new services. Thirty-four of the Post Offices have also received up to £15,000 in revenue funding which will help employ new staff or increase staff hours to provide more services.

Janet Ryder said:
 “I am delighted that so many Post Offices across North Wales have been able to take advantage of the fund and that it is already making a difference to businesses and communities alike. The enterprises we are now supporting are excellent examples of how Post Offices can provide so many other services for the communities they serve."

Huw Roberts, Director of Welsh Affairs for Royal Mail said:
 “One in seven of Post Offices have now been directly helped by the Fund. We are delighted to be working with the Welsh Assembly Government on this scheme – it can only be good for the community and the service we provide.”

NOTE: Of the 75 post offices receiving help, 10 are in Janet Ryder's North Wales regional constituency. They are:

Llanfairtalhaiarn PO, Conwy
Cerrigydrudion PO, Conwy
Llangollen PO, Denbs
Meliden Rd PO, Denbs
Wepre PO, Flints
Hawarden PO, Flints
Flint PO, Flints
Ffynnongroyw PO, Flints
Glyn Ceiriog PO, Wrexham
Town Hill PO, Wrexham

Sunday, 6 December 2009

AMs question Communities First scheme to tackle poverty

The Daily Post reports on Assembly questions over Communities First projects.
AMs question Communities First scheme to tackle poverty

SENIOR Welsh Assembly Government officials were grilled by AMs yesterday over the failings of a £214m drive to tackle deprivation in some of Wales’ poorest communities.
The flagship Communities First programme was launched eight years ago, yet an inquiry by the Auditor General for Wales found “fundamental risks” and warned it faced falling short of its ambitions.
The 147 projects across Wales delivered local benefits but the Assembly Government had to strengthen its approach to “programme bending” – which requires public bodies to prioritise their spending in these areas.
Under the initiative, local partnerships coordinate activities such as health and well-being events, community safety promotions, youth projects, training courses and environmental clean-ups.
But it was 2007 before the Assembly Government took steps to monitor if partnerships were run as intended.
That review encouraged more focus on outcomes.
Jonathan Morgan, Conservative chair of the watchdog public accounts committee, suggested to civil servants that problems highlighted in a previous evaluation six years ago of the programme had remained.
Plaid Cymru AM in North Wales Janet Ryder highlighted that of £214m spent on the initiative, some £140m went to projects to employ staff and £30.5m to local authorities and voluntary sector to employ staff to manage and support teams in communities.
“Should local councils not have been supporting these initiatives anyway?” she said.
Mr Morgan said: “The whole idea was to try to improve the community fabric within the 100 most deprived wards, not as a recruitment exercise for local authorities or anyone else.”
Emyr Roberts, director general for public services, said: “Many of these areas lack capacity to get community development underway, the first phase has been about developing that capacity.”
Dame Gillian said it was impossible to manage all projects from the centre.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Out with the street pastors

For the past four years, weekend revellers in Wrexham town centre have had the added safeguard of Street Pastors to look after them. Last week I attended a dinner to celebrate their achievements as the first such scheme in Wales.

Before that, I went out with them as they checked that people out to enjoy themselves on a Friday night were safe.

It was interesting to see that their presence was very welcome by both revellers and door supervisors, who were very complimentary of the service being provided by these volunteers. One girl who was incapable of walking in her high heels was given a pair of flipflops, a practical help to many who struggle to combine stilettos and alcohol.

It was reassuring, as a parent, to know that youngsters had people out on the street who were there if they needed them for help, advice or simply to get them home. Their presence is low key and perhaps less confrontational than a high-level police presence would be.

Many thanks to Billy and Gareth - in the picture - and all the others who do this voluntary work and also those who help in the background to ensure the service continues.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

'Affordable housing for Wales must not be blocked by London politicians'

Plaid Cymru's North Wales AM Janet Ryder has today called on the Westminster parties to give assurances that they will not cause any further delays to Plaid plans to provide more affordable housing for Welsh communities.

Janet Ryder was speaking after a statement by Plaid deputy housing minister Jocelyn Davies, who is seeking powers from Westminster to legislate in order to increase the availability of affordable housing; a One Wales commitment which has even more resonance in the current economic climate.

A previous bid for these powers was derailed by MPs trying to dictate the Welsh legislation that should follow.

Plaid Cymru’s Janet Ryder said:
 “When Plaid went into government we committed to ensuring that more affordable housing was created for Welsh communities. This aim has become even more pressing in the current economic conditions. Unfortunately, MPs in Westminster derailed the legislative process last time by trying to dictate the measures that the Welsh government could put in place once they had the power to legislate. This set the process back causing years of unnecessary delays in being able to deliver on affordable housing. Affordable housing for Wales must not be blocked by London politicians.
"It is vital that the affordable housing LCO, which gives the Assembly the power to make laws in this matter, is not delayed any further. The MPs job is to decide where the powers to legislate should lie, not what is going to be done with them. It is only right that the London parties make a solid commitment that their MPs will not try to second guess what measures the Welsh government intends to develop with the powers and will instead work to ensure as smooth a passage as possible for this LCO.”
Janet Ryder added that affordable housing continued to be a huge priority in North Wales, despite falling house prices: 
"What we're seeing now is a lack of finance available for house buyers, who are being asked to find 25% deposits - that could amount to tens of thousands of pounds. If you're on an average wage in North Wales, that's just not possible. 
"That's why I was pleased to attend the recent affordable housing conference at Glyndwr University along with Jocelyn Davies along with councillors and housing experts from every council in North Wales. It demonstrated that there are alternatives to the failing open market that councils and the Welsh Government need to look at seriously if we're to meet the housing needs of people."

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Janet backs 15,000-strong petition

Plaid Cymru's North Wales AM Janet Ryder has backed a 15,000-strong petition against a sub-regional plan that links North East Wales to Cheshire and Merseyside.

Janet Ryder was down in the Assembly building in Cardiff to welcome the People's Council of North Wales campaign group as they presented their petition - the largest ever presented to the Assembly.

She said:

 "The petition's size demonstrates the strength of feeling in Wrexham, Denbighshire and Flintshire on this matter. The West Cheshire/North East Wales sub-regional strategy is repeatedly played down by council officers but it is evidently a material planning consideration as they prepare their Local Development Plans. 

"It's important that the concerns of the people were listened to and that local housing needs are paramount. The North East has seen thousands of homes built in the past 10 years and also seen house prices rise way beyond the reach of the average local wage. The latest news that Denbighshire wants to treble the number of houses in Bodelwyddan and effectively create a new commuter town on the A55 reinforces the thrust of this strategy.
"The plan has been developed without people's consent. This petition is a wake-up call to planners, politicians and developers to say 'enough is enough' and calling a halt to overdevelopment. I commend the hard work carried out by the campaign to raise awareness, to highlight the dangers to the environment, our communities and the fragile Welsh identity in many of these areas."
Pictured with Janet Ryder AM are Cllr Carrie Harper, of Wrexham, and other campaigners down in Cardiff Bay.

Plas Madoc update: Communities First bosses suspended

Today's Daily Post has news of developments in the Plas Madoc investigation. I was due to meet Communities First representatives on Friday on the estate but learned today that the meeting had been cancelled.

The scheme’s co-ordinator Miriam Beard and the finance and monitoring officer Andy Bunning have been suspended while auditors scrutinise the books.
It follows allegations about the way the scheme, which has received millions of pounds funding to regenerate the local area, was being managed.

Yesterday Plas Madoc Councillor Paul Blackwell, who sits on the PMCF board said the scheme was fully co-operating with the investigation.

A Welsh Assembly Government spokesman said: “The Welsh Assembly Government and Wales Audit Office are working together to investigate concerns raised about governance arrangements within the Plas Madoc Communities First Partnership.

“As a result of preliminary findings two members of staff employed by the Plas Madoc Communities First Partnership have been suspended, pending further investigation.

“The Assembly Government is continuing to work with the Communities First Partnership in Plas Madoc to ensure that its projects and activities in the local community are able to continue while further investigations continue.

“It would not be appropriate to comment further until the investigation has been completed.”

Coun Blackwell said: “There is full co-operation with the investigation and at the moment there is no evidence of any wrong doing.”

PMCF was formed in 2003 as a limited company and a registered charity.

Its purpose is to regenerate Plas Madoc, which is one of the most deprived wards in Wales.

The community has major problems with access to services such as GPs and dentists, education standards local employment opportunities, and support for childcare.

PMCF funnels funds into proactive schemes to give the local community a much needed boost.

Since 2003 PMCF has co-ordinated a range of beneficial projects to support the area including £125,000 to give play areas a facelift, taking children on life changing trips to Gambia, and organising local environmental action schemes to clean up the area.

Concerns were raised earlier this year there were problems with the way it was being run, with Mandy Bostwick, a psychotherapist and community councillor for Coedpoeth inWrexham, going on the record voicing her worries.

But the claims were denied by PMCF bosses who insisted they would be vindicated after the investigations had concluded.